A Sampling of Behavioral Biology

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Getting the Poop on Behavioral Biology

Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest Journals. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.

Precision, precision, precision. If Corinne Pisacane had a motto, that would be it. Her work as a behavioral biologist for CRES (Conservation and Research for Endangered Species) at the Wild Animal Park requires a keen eye and a steady hand. Precision, you could say, is her middle name.

Just what does a behavioral biologist do exactly? Behavioral biology is the study of animal behavior through biological means- urine, feces, blood, urine, and other bodily fluids, even saliva! At CRES, however, the majority of samples that pass through Mrs. Pisacane’s hands are fecal samples from the many residents at the Zoo and Park. Though a bit on the smelly side, these samples are a valuable source of hormones, providing a wealth of information that indicate an animal’s level of health, and any important biological processes that may be going on inside its body. An increased level of estrogen, a reproductive hormone, for instance, indicates that an animal may be in peak fertility, useful for targeting the best time to breed an animal. This is extremely important in regards to increasing populations of endangered species. A female giant panda is fertile only three days out of the year, so it’s important that the Zoo staff know when those three days are coming around!

The future of many species lies in Mrs. Pisacane’s hands, who spends her days at the endocrinology lab extracting these hormones. We actually performed a mock assay under the watchful and guiding eye of Mrs. Pisacane- but with water tinted with food coloring instead of the expensive radioactive chemicals that she uses on a daily basis. Though it was only water, we worked as though it wasn’t, feeling all the more like behavioral biologists in our official lab coats and latex gloves. The real biologist in the room, though, was Mrs. Pisacane, who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree under her belt. Though a bit tedious, the results from her assays are crucial to the well-being and survival of the Zoo’s animal collection. It’s a big responsibility, but a highly rewarding one.

Claire, Careers Team

 


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